Jun 13, 9:04 PM EDT
U.S. Commanders See Iraq Fight Continuing
By ROBERT BURNS
AP Military Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- When President Bush declared on May 1 that major combat operations had ended in Iraq, there was little discussion of what he meant. For all practical purposes, it seemed the war was over.
It is not.
Since the president made his statement to waves of applause from sailors aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, 47 American servicemen have died in Iraq. Commanders say there is much more fighting ahead.
The total number of American deaths in Iraq since the war began March 19 is 183, according to the Pentagon's count. The number stood at 138 on May 1; two weeks ago it was at 171.
The count of 183 does not include two fatalities announced Friday by U.S. officials in Kuwait: One soldier was killed in a vehicle accident at an air base in Iraq and another drowned while swimming in a lake in Iraq. Neither was identified pending notification of relatives.
Although large parts of Iraq are relatively peaceful and U.S. military control overall is not in doubt, an amalgam of shadowy resistance forces, including unknown numbers of non-Iraqi fighters, are carrying out almost daily hit-and-run attacks against the American occupation forces.
In response, U.S. troops this week began a combat operation, code-named Peninsula Strike, in an area north of Baghdad along the Tigris River against what Central Command described as "Baath Party loyalists, paramilitary groups and other subversive elements."
Some analysts believe these remnants of Saddam Hussein's government are hoping to make a comeback in chaos by killing enough U.S. troops to exhaust the American public's tolerance for casualties.
The death toll as of Friday was far below the 382 in the 1991 Gulf War, when Bush's father was president, but the comparison is closer for those in the "hostile death" category (killed in action or died of wounds): 127 in the current war, 147 in the first Gulf War. The 382 in the earlier war and the 183 in the current one include accidents and illness.
Lee Feinstein, a foreign policy and international law expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in an interview Friday that Bush needs to make an unequivocal public commitment to completing the stabilization of postwar Iraq. The administration's oft-repeated statement that U.S. forces will remain as long as necessary, "and not one day longer," suggests an impatience to leave that only encourages Iraqi opposition fighters to wait out the Americans, he said.
"It encourages attacks on us," Feinstein said.
John Steinbruner, director of the Center for International Security and Studies at the University of Maryland, said he believes the administration is in "the early stages of trouble" with its Iraq policy because Bush has not given a coherent explanation of the long-term goal.
"If you're asking, will there be a sharp and immediate revolt over casualties, I would say no, it will take time to ripen," Steinbruner said in a telephone interview.
No U.S. troops have been killed in Peninsula Strike, although a small number have been wounded, Pentagon officials said.
About 4,000 U.S. troops are involved in the operation, mostly from the Army's 4th Infantry Division, the officials said. They are using armor, artillery, infantry and attack planes.
Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the senior commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, said that although Peninsula Strike is an important mission, it is different from what he called the decisive phase of the war - the major combat operations that toppled Saddam's government in just three weeks of fighting.
In the current combat north of Baghdad, U.S. forces have conducted raids where intelligence indicated there were resistance fighters organizing for attacks on American troops. McKiernan said more than 400 Iraqis were detained and about 50 of them are being held captive.
McKiernan said remnants of the banned Baathist Party that ruled Iraq under Saddam are holding out.
"There are still those that are loyal to a regime that is no longer in power that we will continue to have to seek out, close with and either apprehend them or destroy them. And that will take some time," he said in a satellite video hookup from his headquarters in Baghdad.
Besides the Saddam loyalists, there are an unknown - and perhaps unaffiliated - number of foreign fighters who have staged attacks on American forces since Baghdad fell in April. Pentagon and intelligence officials say these include Saudis, Yemenis, Syrians and Africans motivated primarily by anti-U.S. Islamic extremist ideology rather than support for Saddam.
Joseph Collins, the Pentagon's top policy adviser on postwar peacekeeping in Iraq, told reporters this week that the foreign fighters include "guest worker jihadists," or holy warriors, who entered Iraq during the war for the opportunity to kill Americans at any cost.
"They're not going to go back where they came from until they are either killed or captured," Collins said.
McKiernan indicated that U.S. forces had made headway against some portion of that group, in particular with a raid Thursday on a training camp about 100 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Other officials said that about 70 opposition fighters were killed in that raid, which featured aerial bombing followed by a ground assault by Army special operations troops and members of the 101st Airborne Division. An Army Apache helicopter was shot down in the battle but the crew was not injured, officials said.
Dozens of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons and hundreds of rounds of munitions were found at the camp, one official said.
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